A few days back, David Appelman announced the addition of Hard Hit, Medium Hit and Soft Hit data to the batted ball stats on FanGraphs. Since then, I have been playing around with them, and found some interesting things.
But I had no idea what to make of those things. If a guy has an extremely high Hard Hit%, what does that mean? Should we expect regression? Should we expect it to continue? And what does that mean for fantasy value?
Some very cursory research suggests that the answer depends on whether you are talking about a hitter or a pitcher. A number of us at Rotographs – Alex Chamberlain, Eno Sarris, and myself, to be exact, looked for evidence of whether giving up hard/soft contact or creating hard/soft contact was a skill.
There is more research to be done – particularly looking at stabilization rates within season. But our first look was at year-over-year correlation. Those of you who frequent this data-heavy corner of the nets will know that if something is a skill, we expect to see a high YoY correlation. If pitcher X is really, really good at making guys hit the ball weakly, he should still be good at that the next year and the year after, in general.
But that is not what we see. All of us found very low YoY correlations for pitchers. Specifically, Alex found a correlation of .25 YoY for Hard Hit% using 2002-2014 data.
So what that tells us is that if you see a pitcher generally throwing well (high K%-BB% for example) but with a sky-high HH%, that solid contact is likely not his fault and will regress to the mean.
For example, Joe Kelly of the Red Sox has been piling up Ks and his walks haven’t been too bad. His HH% is 36%, tied for 7th highest in baseball and a significant increase over anything that has happened to him in the past. The implication of the low YoY correlation is that the contact he gives up should get softer in the future, likely leading to fewer hits and better overall numbers.
Hitters, on the other hand, do seem to have a HH skill. Chamberlain found a correlation of .69, again similar to what others found. This tells us something different – namely that a hitter who is smoking the ball is probably going to keep smoking the ball.
Take a look at Ryan Braun. He has a 43.6% HH%, 7th highest in the game.His Hard-Medium-Soft split is very similar to Mike Trouts. Yet he has a .264 BABIP and a good-but-not-Braun-like .248/.327/.436 line. But we have reason to believe he’ll continue to create a lot of hard contact, which means the overall line should improve as well.
At the other end of the spectrum, Sonny Gray has the league’s lowest HH% against and I have to wonder when the other shoe will drop for him. Chase Utley, in the meantime, seems like a buy low candidate, and his BABIP will surely improve, but he is also sandwiched between Everth Cabrera and Ben Revere for the 5th lowest HH%. That suggests a guy who has just lost it, not a guy just waiting to break out.
As I said before, this is just a first step and there is more to come from the team on how to use this data, but this is a start – at least year-to-year, hitting the ball hard is a skill; inducing soft contact is not.
Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.